BatchBlog Post: “Step Outside the Code: Be Your Own User”

Notebook

I just upped a post over at the BatchBlog called “Step Outside the Code: Be Your Own User.” Let me tease it a bit, then I’ll elaborate a bit more here about the process I followed.

As soon as I joined BatchBlue in May, I was thrown into the fire—we had a beta to get out, after all. There were lots of bugs to be fixed, display issues to be resolved, cranky browsers to accommodate, and architectures to learn. A lot of things initially impressed me about BatchBook, but it seemed like all I was doing was fixing issues. It becomes easy to lose a sense of the whole when you’re arm wrestling with tiny pieces of code day after day.

Then, a wonderful thing (on so many levels) happened—I took a couple weeks off to welcome our second child. For two weeks, I didn’t fix any bugs… I fixed makeshift dinners. I didn’t clean up code… I cleaned up belly button regions. I didn’t change class names, I changed diapers. Yet, I still used BatchBook. But I finally used it as a real live user.

It was very interesting finally jumping into BatchBook head first as a user. I had a lot of “hey, this works but if only it did this” moments. I jotted those down in a notebook. I kept the notebook open for the entire two weeks. Nolan has a knack for being wide awake between 11 pm and 2 am and requiring me to pace around the house with him, listening to music.

I brainstormed. A lot. Every time I passed the notebook, I would jot down the idea. I kept building my vision of how this thing should work. Then, the Sunday before I returned, I cranked out a bunch of mockups based on what I was thinking about. And hell if they weren’t some of the best work I’ve ever produced.

So, why is it that when I’m at my most tired, I’m feeling my most invigorated with my work? It could be a lot of things. I think one main reason is that since I didn’t design the first iteration of BatchBook, I felt very overwhelmed by the amount of areas I felted needed to be changed. Well, I’ve now mocked up a totally revamped Contacts section, which is really the backbone of the app. So, maybe it is because I can finally feel the application getting a sense of… me.

I honestly think another reason is that I just backed off of the development for two weeks and just used the thing. I organized my own contacts, made edits that weren’t just dummy data, and actually started recording new information in it as it came, leaving my other applications behind. I like the app, but I love what the app can be. And I think I’m just pumped because I finally have an idea of what that is.

2 Comments

  1. On July 13th, 2007 at 7:07 am Mark said:

    Similarly, in big IT + business process work, it’s an easy trap to fall into just perpertually re-inventing the wheel as you move from one platform to the next. In theory, the move to the new “holy grail” solution is supposed to solve all the businesses’ problems, but those designing and implementing it, keep thinking in terms of how things are done today, using the same process, the same business terminology, the same limitations. They wind up, just replicating the situation overall. That’s a trap of the “requirements” process because developers look at how the prior tool did something and think that’s a requirement. They wind up making a copy of a copy of an original way to do something. There are other ways to do it, and one might even redefine what it is that needs to be done. That’s the real requirement.

    How do you create a breakthrough?

    If one were to set all that aside, and think about what the processes are REALLY there to accomplish in terms of the customer objective, then real progress can be made. Things would be completely re-engineered.

    It’s great that you are able to think about how the product is actually used to do productive work, instead of just focusing on fixing it’s features.

    What a great opportunity to work in a company the size of BatchBlue – so much of how you think, and what you do will be imprinted on the product. You will make a big difference.

    That has to feel great.

  2. On July 13th, 2007 at 1:17 pm Adam Darowski said:

    Thanks for the great reply, Mark.

    I was lucky in that I was “forced” to take some time away from picking at the underbelly and by doing that was able to focus on the big picture. I almost think any web app developers should be forced to have a “code-free” week every now and again. It may make for a slower initial development process, but it will make for a much better product in the end.